Celtics Aim to Bring West Coast Swagger Back to Boston
BOSTON – Ten days ago, the Boston Celtics were blown out by the Houston Rockets at home, marking their fifth defeat in six games out of the All-Star break. To make matters more challenging, they were about to embark on a week-and-a-half-long, West Coast trip, beginning with a matchup against the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
Boston easily could’ve buckled at this point, but following the loss to Houston, its players made it clear that they were going to stick together and attempt to straighten things out.
After a successful, 3-1 trip, which started off with wins over the Warriors, Kings and Lakers, and wrapped up with a loss to the Clippers, it appears that the C’s are back on the right path.
“I thought we played with so much more purpose in the Golden State game, and then to gut out the Sacramento game was a big win,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Wednesday afternoon, back home in Boston at the Celtics’ practice facility. “And then obviously we played well enough to beat the Lakers. But I think we always kind of look at what’s last, and it was not a great taste in our mouth coming back from Monday night. But I just think we played with more purpose on both ends of the floor.”
The Celtics displayed such purpose in a 33-point blowout over Golden State, they showed it again the next night during a fight-to-the-finish victory against Sacramento, and they exhibited it yet again three nights later in a 13-point win over the Lakers.
It’s that type of purpose that Stevens wants to see out of this group on a consistent basis, because when they play like that, they can hang with any team in the league.
“We’ve had more good moments than bad moments,” Stevens said of the season as a whole. “I think that like I said before, we haven’t always been great at staying in the moment in games and we haven’t always been great at moving on afterward, and that’s probably cost us a little bit here this year. But I think we know if we play the right way, play together, play with the right effort, that we can be a good team.”
The Celtics will look to carry that mindset into their three-game homestand, which is set to begin Thursday night against the Kings.
“We’re feeling good about ourselves and hopefully we can keep it up,” Jayson Tatum said in anticipation of the home stretch following Wednesday’s practice.
Returning from a lengthy, West Coast trip has its own set of obstacles, such as readjusting to the time difference, but the team feels that it will be ready to go by Thursday’s tip-off.
“Our sports science group and everybody I think does a great job with this,” Stevens said of the readjustment process. “There’s a reason we travel when we do, there’s a reason we stay over when we do, there’s a reason we practiced at 2 o’clock (p.m.) today instead of noon, there’s a reason we will come in at 4:45 (p.m.) tomorrow instead of 11 (a.m.). All that stuff is so that we can maximize our play when we get back on the court.”
The C’s will need to maximize their play Thursday night, as they go up against a young, talented Kings team that nearly handed them a loss last week. Stevens believes that facing such a fast-paced team like Sacramento is the type of test that can be beneficial for them down the line.
“We talked today about how we have to be much better in transition, and we need to clean up some of our defensive and offensive habits,” Stevens said following Wednesday’s film session. “That’s really the focus of the next month. And so today, we did a ton of simulation of transition without the sprinting, and getting back and guarding actions that we’re going to see a lot of. And the best challenge we can get in working on our transition defense in the league is tomorrow night; they’re the No. 1 transition offense in the league.”
As strong as Sacramento’s transition offense is, the Celtics believe that they can keep up with anyone, as long as they’re playing with the type of purpose they displayed during their West Coast swing. The key to maintaining such purpose is to approach each game with a relentless mindset, which the C’s seem to be doing as they look ahead to the final stretch of the regular season.
“We've been playing well the last four games and we need to keep that going,” said Tatum, who hopes to return Thursday after being sidelined for one game with a sore right shoulder. “Fourteen games left, try to win them all, one game at a time. We want to go into the Playoffs in the best shape and with best mindset we can have.”